Despite the fact that they have a kind of a bad reputation, fats comprise an important part of our diet. They are necessary for proper functioning of the body, with organism using fats absorbed from food to build cell membranes, facilitate blood clotting, inflammatory response, vitamin absorption and muscle movements. As such, fats cannot be simply eliminated from our diet without sever consequences.
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Fats are also the most energy-rich dietary substance out there with as much as 9 kilocalories per gram, as compared with proteins and carbohydrates which only produce 4 kilocalories per gram.
However, there are some things that we should mention straight away:
- Adults shouldn’t be eating more than 70g of total fats and 20g of saturated fats on a daily basis
- If consumption of excess energy becomes commonplace, the risk of becoming overweight and eventually obese increases exponentially
- Obesity has been directly linked to increased risk of various other diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses as well as certain types of cancer
The excess consumption of fats can also significantly raise the blood cholesterol levels, thus contributing to various illnesses affecting the cardiovascular system. While cholesterol is also necessary for the building of cellular walls and production of vitamin D, bile acids and hormones, when it is present in excessive amounts it can cause considerable damage.
When talking about cholesterol, it is important to differentiate between low density lipoproteins (also known as LDLs) which are produced in the liver and transported to the location in the body where they are needed, and high density lipoproteins (HDLs) which are returned to the liver for filtering.
The excess of LDLs can contribute to narrowing of arteries due to formation of cholesterol deposits – a medical condition known as atherosclerosis. This condition can, in turn, restrict blood flow and cause problems with blood pressure and contribute to the development of illnesses affecting the cardiovascular system. On the other hand, the lack of HDL indicates that the body isn’t able to get rid of excess cholesterol the natural way, via the liver.
Types of fat explained
Each type of fat can be easily identified by its chemical structure. Using this as a central criterion, the medical experts differentiate between good fats which are unsaturated, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and bad fats which are saturated. So called god fats are usually higher in essential fatty acids and tend to be liquid at room temperature more often than not (olive and rapeseed oil).
Some of the most commonly consumed unsaturated fat sources include:
- Fish rich in oil (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines)
- Sunflower and olive oil
Essential fatty acids present in the unsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which play a crucial role in preserving the health of your heart, preventing blood clotting and promoting a healthy heart rhythm.
With this in mind, it is important to say that while good fats are beneficial for your health, all types of fat can lead to weight gain due to excess energy being stored in the body as fat.
As mentioned, bad fats, often referred to as saturated or trans fats, tend to be solid at the room temperature (butter and lard, for example) and they are present in dietary elements such as:
- Fatty meats and processed meat products
- Cakes, biscuits and pastries
- Cream and ice cream
- Sweet confectionary
- Coconut and palm oil
The consumption of saturated fats has been proven to increase the amount of LDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of blood vessels constriction.
Trans fats are, unlike good fats, man-made during the process of hydrogenation. This technique allows certain oils to remain in solid form without becoming rancid. These products are commonly used in cakes, biscuits and fast food products. Aside from contributing to the increase in LDL cholesterol, saturated fats have also been known to lower the amount of HDL. According to one study, the consumption of bad fats on a daily basis can increase the risk of heart disease by as much as 23% per every 2% of calories from trans fats consumed daily.
With these alarming facts becoming wider-known, the UK food industry had to take action and reduce the amount of trans fats being used in various dietary products, with many companies opting to exclude bad fats from their products altogether, thus opting for a healthier alternative.
How can I reduce the intake of saturated fats?
Luckily, keeping your consumption of saturated fats in check is not rocket science. In fact, it can be achieved fairly easily:
- Selecting lean meat products
- Removing skin from poultry
- Trimming off visible fat on meat before cooking
- Buying low-fat alternatives to your favourite fat-rich foodstuffs
- Decreasing the intake of high fat foods such as processed or fried foods
Those who are aiming to lose weight because of health concerns will be advised not only to limit their overall fat intake, but also pay special attention to saturates while doing so. It is important to note that if you are looking to lose weight efficiently and safely, without omitting any essential nutrients, you should definitely consult with your doctor prior to making any radical changes. Only once you get the relevant advice from the doctor can you start implementing changes to your lifestyle.
In almost all cases, the doctor will help you hammer out a provisional exercise programme and dietary regimen and recommend prescription medications only if these lifestyle changes fail to produce the desired results on their own.